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05 June 2024

Sustainability: engaging the next generation

By Quirine, work placement apprentice at the Centre for Sustainable Business, King’s Business School

In this blog, high school student Quirine shares her thoughts on how to engage young people with sustainability.

The Centre for Sustainable Business Article: Sustainability - Engaging the Next Generation Photo of Climate Activists
Photo by Li-An Lim

Overcoming barriers

Young people’s knowledge of sustainability and their engagement with it will be essential in shaping the future. Unfortunately, a variety of barriers are currently stopping this from happening.  

These barriers include; poor education within the school curriculum, not enough trustworthy sources of information, and a lack of awareness on our part – topics such as finance, electricity, heating and food just aren’t on our radar yet. There are also wider issues as well; young people have no way to connect with key decision-makers to help shape our policies.

There is hope, however. Many young people want to learn and actively take part in more sustainable practices and habits. We are eager to make a change to our local communities and the wider world.

We can use this enthusiasm and willingness to make changes and ensure increased engagement and understanding of sustainability by the next generation. In this blog, I’ll discuss a variety of ways I believe we can achieve this.

Many young people want to learn and actively take part in more sustainable practices and habits. We are eager to make a change to our local communities and the wider world.

Solutions-first education

The UK government states: "Building on a foundation of fundamental numeracy, literacy and broad academic knowledge, all children learn about nature, the causes and impacts of climate change, and the importance of sustainability." This shows that the education system is very good in teaching us how and why climate change is happening, but teaches us very little about what we can do to make change actually happen.

Without any practical solutions, young people can end up feeling overwhelmed by the world’s issues. We need more information on how we can make a positive impact, as we are the next generation living on this planet, and its future custodians.

Whilst there are some good sustainability initiatives in schools, the national curriculum is also still lacking in information about the UN's 17 sustainable development goals. If these goals were more widely known, our knowledge of sustainability would be a lot more comprehensive. Young people would associate poverty, hunger and inequality with sustainability more, and therefore would be more likely to use the resources the UN provides to inform their actions and to create tangible solutions.

Connecting with local communities

Opportunities for young people to help protect their local environment can be beneficial in developing their teamwork, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills. It provides them with hands-on experience and improves their understanding of why it is important to develop a more sustainable future, both for the local community and for its surrounding ecosystems.

This could include volunteering opportunities within primary schools, nurseries, retirement homes, food banks, charities, and nature reserves. To enable this to happen, councils need to provide more volunteering opportunities for young people, as well as schools offering their own volunteering initiatives themselves. On top of this, local grassroots charities could do workshops in schools to provide resources and advice on ways young people can help their communities and environment.

Access to trustworthy resources

The internet is a vital resource of information for young people. In fact, 63% of 16-24-year-olds consume their news from social media. On the topic of sustainability, there are plenty of digital resources available, but unfortunately, a lot of misinformation gets spread online. This makes it very difficult for young people to know what information to trust.

One idea would be to build a trustworthy platform of reliable information that is accessible to my generation. This could greatly increase our engagement with sustainability and highlight the actions we can all take to help combat climate change. A platform like this could include:

  • Links to reviewed research papers and articles on sustainability.
  • Videos and presentations explaining concepts of research papers in a way that is understandable to young/ non-academic people.
  • Information on positive climate action that can be taken by young people/ the public.
  • A variety of different formats as each person learns differently.

Parents and teachers could use this platform to educate their children, and it could teach older generations about sustainability in a way that might not have existed when they went to school.

Social media could also be an effective method of sharing information. However, it can be very addictive and we should aim to reduce the amount of time people are spending on these platforms. Furthermore, we would need to consider the ethics of using consumerist social platforms to share trustworthy information on sustainability, as these platforms traditionally make money from their content.

Talking to the decision-makers

Many young people have opinions about how to improve sustainable practices in our world, but don’t know how to voice their ideas to people who can change things.

At school, we’re told to ‘send in a complaint’, but we’re never really taught exactly how to do that. This can easily be improved by teaching young people how to communicate effectively with councils or governments.

Furthermore, for a young person, local council websites and the government website can be very difficult to navigate and quite confusing. It would be helpful if they improved the online user experience, so it is quick and easy for young people to find clear, relevant information. The government and local councils could even encourage more ideas and opinions by providing a feedback form or online suggestions box for the public.

How does the next generation want to see the future?

In the future, we want to see more global co-operation to solve problems such as overconsumption and climate change.

Large businesses should be more people-orientated and planet-focused than for-profit. This can be achieved by meeting the standards of a B certified corporation and acting on feedback given to them by customers and employees. Social media companies should also work on security and safety of the content on their platforms to ensure misinformation is stopped at its source.

In the future, we also want more trust between the government and their people. This could be gained by governing bodies carrying out their promise, and by explaining the reasoning behind decisions, such as changes of policies.

Finally, we want equality, which will most likely take a long time to achieve but the first step is for people to learn to be kind to each other and the planet, and to learn from the mistakes that are made.

Quirine spent a week with the Centre for Sustainable Business as part of a Unifrog work placement. She is a high school student studying A Level Biology, Chemistry, Maths, and Theatre Studies. Quirine loves nature and has cared about preserving it ever since she understood the threat against it. In the future, she wants to combine her creativity and love of sciences to create innovative solutions to current and future problems.